Digital Influence Mercenaries

Profits and Power Through Information Warfare

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In today's online attention economy, supply and demand have created a rapidly growing market for firms and entrepreneurs using the tactics, tools, and strategies of digital influence warfare to gain profit and power. This book focuses on the more malicious types of online activity such as deception, provocation, and a host of other dirty tricks conducted by these "digital influence mercenaries." They can be located anywhere with an Internet connection—Brazil, China, Iran, Macedonia, Russia, Zimbabe —and the targets of their influence efforts can be whomever and wherever they are paid to attack. They can do this for state governments willing to pay and provide their targeting instructions (usually in support of foreign policy objectives) and may have specific metrics by which they will assess the mercenaries' performance. Non-state actors (including corporations and political parties) can pay for these kinds of digital influence services as well. And in addition to being paid for services rendered, digital influence mercenaries can also profit simply by manipulating the targeted advertising algorithms used by social media platforms. 

James J. F. Forest describes in detail the various tools and tactics these mercenaries use to exploit the uncertainties, fears, and biases of their targets including bots, deep-fake images, fake news, provocation, deception and trolling. He also shows how they weaponize conspiracy theories and disinformation to manipulate people's beliefs and perceptions. Forest also highlights how government agencies and social media platforms are trying to defend against these foreign influence campaigns through such tactics as shutting down offending websites, Facebook pages, and YouTube channels; tagging disinformation with warning labels; identifying and blocking coordinated inauthentic behavior; and suspending social media accounts, often permanently.  European and North American governments have launched numerous investigations against these mercenaries, and in some cases have brought criminal charges. Forest concludes with suggestions for how each of us can learn to identify disinformation and other malicious efforts and defend ourselves in the future.

About the Author

Editorial Reviews

“James J. F. Forest offers readers a tour around the rocky and challenging landscape of online information manipulation and paid influence operations. In a world that is increasingly mediated by networked technology, Digital Influence Mercenaries is destined to be an instant standard academic reference on a vitally important topic.” —J.M. Berger, author of Extremism and postgraduate researcher at Swansea University School of Law
“This volume is of great interest–whatever one's politics. The emerging cyber realities detailed here must be better understood by all of us in the social sciences, including economics and sociocultural anthropology.” —Christopher C. Harmon, PhD, adjunct professor, Institute of World Politics
“In his new book, Digital Influence Mercenaries: Profits and Power Through Information Warfare, James J.F. Forest analyzes the next frontier of conflict - the information environment, and how cyber warfare, disinformation, and hackers will figure prominently in the future of warfare. Forest meticulously details how digital forms of influence warfare will disrupt the geopolitical landscape, tracing its evolution and highlighting the main players and technologies involved. An absolute must-read!” —Colin P. Clarke, PhD, director of policy and research, The Soufan Group, and senior research fellow at The Soufan Center
“Dr. James Forest has written a new book titled Digital Influence Mercenaries: Profits and Power Through Information Warfare which describes a robust private sector in which digital influence mercenaries will do online public perception manipulation on behalf of the highest bidder, which could be political parties, corporations, dictators, individual politicians and CEOs, and yes, even state government agencies. A must-read for security professionals, educators, political analysts, journalists and most importantly, the general public which increasingly only seeks a point of view that they already agree with and without learning any other point of view.” —Brig. Gen. Russell D. Howard (Ret.), Distinguished Senior Fellow, Joint Special Operations University
“Forest lays out a compelling, detailed analysis of the murky world of disinformation for profit.” —Journal of Cyber Policy
“Forest’s book is quite insightful.” —National Security Institute